Happy Belated Pokémon Day!
Twenty five years ago, on Feb. 27, 1996, Pokémon Red and Green were released in Japan to commercial and critical success. Although it would be two more years before the games would be released in America, Pokémon wasted no time becoming a worldwide icon. The Pokémon Company has celebrated Pokémon Day every year since 2016 by rallying community events, announcing new video game installments in the franchise and releasing new merchandise.
This year The Pokémon Company International is pulling out all the stops for the quadranscentennial (25 year) anniversary and hosting a virtual concert with musical artists Katy Perry and Post Malone, a decision even that Pokémon acknowledged is “out of left field.”
However, Pokémon has been embracing Western celebrities for decades on end. Here are a few key moments from the franchise’s history when American public figures have interacted with Pikachu and the gang.
Andrew Rannells begins his Broadway career as James
Andrew Rannells is a Tony-nominated Broadway performer best known for his role as Elder Price in The Book of Mormon. Most recently, he starred in Netflix’s adaptation of the musical The Prom. One thing that many Broadway aficionados may not know, however, is that Rannells’s first stage role was as James of Team Rocket fame in the off-Broadway musical Pokémon Live! Pokémon Live ran from September 2000 to January 2001, and depicted a wholly original story with costumed performers portraying a variety of the original 151 Pokémon.
Among other outlandish plot points about the musical original character “MechaMew2,” this musical confirms that Giovanni of Team Rocket is Ash’s father. Despite all of these details, however, a majority of the cast reported that they enjoyed working on the show, but “an unnamed cast member” was unhappy working on the show. Rannells would later go on interviews detailing how he only took the role out of need for money and that looking back, he “would have rather done, like, a snuff film or porn than this show.”
If you’re curious, a recording of the entire show was uploaded to YouTube by the stage manager.
Hulk Hogan commentates competitive Pokémon in 2006
Competitive Pokémon battling exists, and in the modern era, it’s a robust field, with numerous prominent players being signed to top esports organizations. Even still, however, it remains a small niche, even within the largest media franchise on the planet, so finding out about people with a knowledge of the format always interests me. One of those people is WWE legend Hulk Hogan. In 2006, during the franchise’s 10th anniversary, Hulk Hogan showed up at the United States National Championship tournament to commentate the finals in Bryant Park in midtown New York City. During an interview with The Pokémon Company, he talked about why he likes the franchise so much, stating that it’s “pure entertainment for the kids that teaches values and how to stay focused and team play.”
Nothing hits quite like Hulk Hogan talking about the depth of strategy that competitive battling requires.
Hillary Clinton tells American voters to Pokémon Go to the polls
This one lives in my head rent-free.
The summer of 2016 was the most magical period of my life, a status that solidified on July 6, 2016, when American mobile gaming company Niantic released Pokémon Go. Despite early server failings, the game would later become a landmark for the 2010s, with a large active community even five years later. Pokémon Go became a cultural phenomenon that summer - everyone was walking around, catching any Digletts or Doduos that they would encounter. Personally, I would spend time in midtown Manhattan, sitting near a fountain, and once in a while someone would yell “Chansey on 56th and 5th” and a stampede of people would sprint down the street. Pokémon Go helped create a summer of joy.
Of course, Pokémon Go wasn’t the only thing happening that summer - the 2016 election was well underway, and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was on the campaign trail. In a July 14, 2016 rally in Annandale, Virginia, Secretary Clinton would say the famous line, “I don’t know who created Pokémon Go, but I’m trying to figure out how to get them to have Pokémon Go ... to the polls!”
This moment would later become a widespread Internet meme and be an unforgettable moment in American politics - all thanks to Pokémon.
Danny DeVito isn’t Detective Pikachu…
In 2016, a spinoff Pokémon game was released in Japan for the 3DS called Great Detective Pikachu. The main character, a talking Pikachu with a surprisingly deep voice, instantly became popular, namely due to the dissonance between Pikachu’s cute appearance and the Japanese voice actor’s gruff tone. So when the game was announced in America, now named Detective Pikachu, fans of the franchise instantly began fan casting Danny DeVito as the titular Detective Pikachu, using his performance as Frank Reynolds from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as inspiration.
Fans drafted a Change.org petition that accumulated 50,000 signatures calling for DeVito to be cast in the role. He later stated in an interview that he had not been approached about the role, responding with a simple “What the F is Pokémon?” Kaiji Tang, best known for his role as Owain from Fire Emblem: Awakening, was eventually cast as the titular Detective Pikachu when the game released in America in 2018.
...but Ryan Reynolds is
Detective Pikachu’s celebrity casting did not end with the release of the game. A Hollywood movie adaptation of the game was announced in 2016. In December 2017, the film adaptation found their title star in Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds embraced his role as Pikachu with his characteristic sarcasm, releasing a promotional video on his personal YouTube channel about the role.
The movie was released on May 3, 2019 in Japan and a week later in America, becoming the second highest grossing Hollywood video game adaptation of all time.
As you can see, Post Malone and Katy Perry may initially seem out of left field for the fantasy world of Pikachu and Charizard, but they join a smattering array of public figures: Andrew Rannells, Hulk Hogan, Hillary Clinton and Ryan Reynolds. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing these artists crossover with the franchise, even if the 3D model of Post Malone is nightmare-inducing. Happy Pokémon Day and I hope everyone is as excited for the Sinnoh remakes as I am!
Thumbnail photo "Pokémon statue at Pokemon Center Tokyo DX" by Kanesue is licensed under cc-by-2.0.